With new mobile phones coming on the market at a rapid rate, and with each new generation of phone beating the previous one by leaps and bounds in terms of performance, the fact that the latest contract phones are being handed out either for free or at least for a fraction of their real prices along with a number of new and innovative phone deals that have become available, it is hardly surprising that mobile phones have short lifetimes. So what happens to them when we no longer need them? Southampton University recently looked into the relationship between its students and their mobile phones, and this is what they discovered.
The lifecycle of mobile phones is surprisingly short, even given all of the above. Many phone users consider their phone to be obsolete within around a year of acquiring it. This is despite the fact that the phone is working perfectly well. Not only are these once-loved phones entirely reusable, they are also valuable in terms of the materials they are made of and many of their components. Taking into consideration the size and weight of the discarded phone and its intrinsic value, phones are the most valuable of all items that end up in waste disposal in large quantities.
The study next considered the number of students worldwide and the number of times that they replace their phones between joining a university and graduating. Just looking at the US, the UK and the rest of Europe there are nearly 40 million students and they replace their phones on average 3 times before they graduate; that is a lot of phones.
Five universities in the UK were selected for a detailed study into what happened to these phones that were no longer required. The study began by examining the reasons why students changed their phones so often and came up with a number of them. The major ones stated were: to replace a phone that had stopped working; upgrading the phone through the network provider; staying in fashion; finding a phone with a better battery life than the old one. Male students changed their phones more frequently than females.
Although around 40% of the discarded phones are returned for reuse or recycled, the remainder are kept by the students as a backup or additional phone which is rarely used. This stockpile of mainly unused phones is huge: around 62 million phones in the UK, US and rest of Europe. Although most mobile phone suppliers operate a take back service, very few students were aware of it and of those who were very few used it.
Even students who were quite happy to recycle paper, glass and other materials seemed quite oblivious to the environmental and economic benefits of recycling their phones. However students were incentivised to participate in phone take back services when a monetary award or voucher was offered for doing so.
So how many phones do you have lying in the back of a draw? Developing countries are crying out for them and, even if they no longer work, they are packed full of recyclable materials many of which might soon be in short supply, so do your duty: recycle your phone.